Across the world, more than 3 billion people are in a lockdown. Flights have stopped, the travel industry is on halt, and daily commutes to work are a thing of the past. Work from home, with kids jumping in the background, is the new normal. And many say these normals are here to stay.
For the first time, in many of our lives, we have witnessed crisp clear blue skies and fresh unpolluted air. For years, people across India had adjusted their definition of clean air, blue sky and healthy environment, to suit the ineffectiveness of its administration. In fact, one leading argument was that India is an inherently dusty country, and the WHO standard is designed for western nations.
Another argument made Indians immune from the hazard of air pollution by virtue of growing with it for over two decades. Defying all these misconceptions, the lockdown has revealed clearly that clean and healthy air quality is entirely possible across the country.
At many levels, it was an aspirational handicap. At many levels, we simply didn’t know, how beautifully clean and healthy our cities and neighborhoods could be.
Across both Tier 1 (Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Bangalore) and Tier 2 (Lucknow, Varanasi, and Patna) cities, the effect of the lockdown is clear and evident. This has clearly laid bare, the weakness of the Indian transport system which emits a high level of PM2.5, PM10, and NOx in the local air.
When you don’t know what you don’t know, its difficult to even imagine what the possibilities are. For large parts of the Indian population, clear air was that unknown factor. Many of us had to dig far back into our childhood memories to get even one good memory of clean air. Our demands for clean air were as fickle as our memories of it.
With an exception of areas impacted by coal power plants, the entire country has shown a sharp plunge in air pollution levels. This pre-post lockdown, clearly outline the major source of pollution of the area: power plant, industrial, vehicular, and equips us with focus, tools, and determination to solve them.
The Covid lockdown has led to economic losses in billions of dollars. The entire economy has been disrupted, production halted, and industries brought to their knees. Even though air pollution, on an annual basis has led to more deaths than the coronavirus, the changes required to reduce pollution have faced reluctance from the industrial community at large. These changes are a fraction of the economic cost required to run these industries.
Simple solutions like banning diesel vehicles, using electric variants of heavy vehicles like truck and buses, and offering subsidies on smaller electric vehicles. These would also helped in a marked reduction of vehicular pollution in Indian cities. Yet, we were presented with a picture of budgetary constraints, which further led to implementation difficulties.
As the world reopens again, it will fall on us to reimagine its structure. To reimagine the priorities for the budget, policy, technology, and implementation. To demand for clean air, lower emissions, and aggressive climate action. If the coronavirus health crisis can lead to redefined priorities, maybe the push for redefining climate action priorities won’t be in vain.